Be Secure Again with Home Security and Automation

Home Security Compromised

Secure Again — Elliot Caleira’s Story

I thought I heard something moving outside. Grover, my dog, makes noises out there often because he loves hunting squirrels and running through bushes. But this sound was more subtle and disturbing. I called out to Grover, and he came running, but the noise continued.

At the time, I didn’t have a security system and had no way to know if my door was locked without walking to the door. The noise scared me so much that I called 9-1-1 as I walked, and when I got to the door, I dropped the phone. Standing outside was a tall man with a black hat and baggy t-shirt with what looked like a weapon poking out of his pants pocket. I was terrified and felt I couldn’t breathe, yet alone move.

That’s when I noticed the door wasn’t locked. But instead of reaching for the lock, I just ran upstairs as fast as I could. I locked myself in the closet and waited for help, which fortunately came quickly.

Although my story turned out Okay, it might not have, and I started having panic attacks in the middle of the night. I’m old and live alone and worried about another break-in or intruder. I worried tremendously and continuously. That is when I learned about the benefits of a home securing and automation system. Sure, the home automation helps conserve energy and save money by adjusting lights for better ambiance, but it also makes the home looked lived in provides more layers of security. These added security features make sure the home is protected and call the police can if needed.

The system I bought helped calm my fears and gave me peace of mind, along with my 12 step program. I’m now able to control my home security no matter where I am, even if that’s out at the dentist’s office. I can still get phone alerts and check video feeds around my home, even lock or unlock my doors. The only thing I needed in order to check on my home was an Internet connection.

I can set off alarms to quickly call for help if needed, and then disarm the system after. I even set a program to lock my door every day, several times throughout the day, automatically, so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting. This is also a great feature to have with my grandchildren, because when they’re over, I more easily lock the doors to prevent them from getting out without me.

It has taken a long time, but eventually I began to feel secure again at home, thanks to my home security and automation system. This feeling of peace is such a beautiful feeling, and I am so happy to have peace of mind again. Knowing that I can check and control the locks, and protect Grover as well, made me feel safe again. And knowing that I have video surveillance footage also makes me feel safe. Slowly I’m starting to feel fully protected from worst-case scenarios. I urge everyone to buy a home security system to protect your family and pets before something happens. Coming face-to-face with a break-in was frightening and a terrible experience, and if you can avoid it then you should.

Editor Comments

I thank Elliot for sharing his story and use it to introduce my own story and share expert perspectives from my experience as founder of CAZITech Consulting. While at IBM I introduced the company to home automation and the Smart Home concept, and for several years after retiring, I used CAZITech to cover the Digital-Smart-Connected Home market and other subject domains, offering management education & consulting, market & competitive analysis, strategic planning, etc.

Home Security and Automation
My Story (abbreviated version)

I learned a lot from two break-ins that occurred exactly one month apart. It was some 40 years ago, and I was living in a very small home in Arlington, VA that I rented from my parents after getting out of the Army. I was a fulltime student by day and IBM computer operator at night, and one of my college term papers was on Physical & Data Security, using IBM as an example. These break-ins, however, expanded and cemented my perspective.

Break-in #1

I got home from school one winter afternoon to find broken glass on the porch. Someone had broken the front door’s glass windowpane, reached in, and unlocked the door to gain entry. I must have surprised them, because my most valuable possessions were still there, and the back door was wide open, like they made a quick exit.

Police detectives came when I called and dusted everything for fingerprint,s but they found nothing. That’s common in winter when there’s less sweat or oils on hands. I was concerned that the burglars would return later, so the police advised installing better deadbolt locks requiring keys on both sides. I did that right away and replaced the broken windowpane. I also followed their advice to fortify windows by making it so they could only open 6” for ventilation. To do that I drove large screws into both sides of the window frame at the 6” mark. Even if a burglar pried open a window, breaking the lock, the window wouldn’t open far enough to crawl through.

Break-in #2

Exactly one month later, I got home and found broken glass again, but the door was still locked. I had a key. They didn’t. So how did they get in? And how did they get out?

We retraced their activity from the physical evidence and marks they made with a big screwdriver or small crowbar. They preyed open the kitchen window and popped the lock. But the window only opened 6” before hitting the screws I installed. So, they then went around to try another window lower to the ground, where they could get more leverage. They popped that lock too and this time banged the window up over and over again until the screws bent enough so they could open the window about 12-18” and crawl through.

Once inside, it appeared they knew just what to take, and they were in a hurry to get out, especially after almost getting caught the first time and making more noise this time. I can imagine their panic as they grabbed my high-end stereo and speakers, not even unplugging the wires, but ripping them off. They must have bolted to the door, but without a key it wouldn’t open. Their pry bar damaged the door frame, but the locks held. So what would they do next? What to do? What to do? It must have been comical, like catching a monkey with his fist in the coconut because he refused to let go of the bait. The longer they stayed, the more nervous they probably got.

Evidence showed that they eventually found my tool drawer and a Philips screwdriver to remove the big screws from the window frame. That was enough to escape with the stereo, some jewelry, and a few other things, but they had to leave behind my high-end racing bike, since it wouldn’t fit though the window.

Preventing Break-in #3

By now I was freaking out and asked the police what ELSE I might do to keep this from happening yet again. Statistics show that once your home is burglarized, a repeat attack is likely, because (1) they know how to get in, (2) they know what you have/had, and (3) they expect that insurance would replace it all with new stuff.

The police said a monitored security system might help but that the best deterrent comes not from the system itself but from the stickers on doors & windows that say you have one. It seems that crooks, at least amateur crooks, will just go on to an easier target. These security systems, however, aren’t much of a deterrent for a determined professional, because there are other ways to break in. Why bother with doors or windows that have sensors when you can go right through the brick walls or roof? With that advice and understanding, I just installed stickers, but I didn’t stop there. To deter professionals, the police recommended another approach. That was to register with their Operation Identification program, mark valuables with a driver’s license, and place stickers on windows saying everything is marked. With items marked, it’s harder to fence them for cash, lowering their value, and the chance of getting caught and prosecuted goes up significantly.

The police even lent me an engraver, and I went wild with it. I even marked the glass liquor bottles in my well-stocked bar, because I guessed it was a small group of kids out for excitement. They had taken booze, some old sneakers, my stereo, and jewelry. But they only took costume jewelry, including items I made in the Army. They didn’t take a custom-made gold ring with a 1-carat diamond — probably because it would be hard to explain how they got it. They were obviously amateurs.

Understanding Motives

It’s important to know the motives of different criminals — amateurs & professionals — and craft deterrents accordingly. This reminded me of the term paper I wrote on Security, contrasting dishonest employees and disgruntled employees. A dishonest one wants personal gain but doesn’t want to get caught. The disgruntled one wants to hurt you. They don’t care much about getting caught and may even want you to know it was them, making them much more dangerous.

A disgruntled employee example was a tape librarian who was being terminated and given two week’s notice. His job was (1) to package up magnetic computer tapes containing updated master files and send them to offsite storage, and (2) to remove the labels from outdated tapes and send them back to the computer room as “scratch” tapes to be written over. But for two weeks, he took the labels off of master tapes and put them back to be written over, while putting the labels on worthless scratch tapes and sending them to offsite storage. By the time company discovered that all of their critical data files had meticulously been destroyed, the damage was done. They never recovered and ended up going out of business. This is an example of why companies today give severance pay in lieu of 2-week’s notice. They just take a terminated employee’s badge, keys and computer, and escort them out after giving them a chance to pack up personal belongings under direct supervision.

Motives Applied to Home Security

I’ve used these examples when consulting on home security and automation systems, because it’s important to assess risks and potential damage and then invest appropriately. For Hollywood actors, politicians, company CEOs, and other high-worth individuals living in multi-million dollar mansions, it makes sense to invest in sophisticated security systems, video surveillance, and safe rooms. The value of their property and family make them an attractive target for professional crooks.

More-modest homes offer less appeal, so you don’t need to be paranoid and buy the latest security and automation system. For most of us, the best deterrent is loud dogs and nosey neighbors, followed by the two types of stickers I mentioned. With that said, I do have a security system, and it supports many home automation features, but it’s role is just as much about fire protection and convenience as security. And I’m NOT a fan of monitored security services, because most police and fire departments allow systems to call them instead, and if I wanted to become a professional burglar, I’d do an internship at a security company to learn what I’m up against. Believe me, professionals know locks and home security systems.

Integrating Home Automation

In Smarter Homes for Home Healthcare, I described the automation features of our last home — a large two-story — before we downsized to something more manageable when our son moved out. I was still at IBM and used my home as a living laboratory. The local newspaper even published a 2-page feature article about it. If the system were to call the local police or fire department, it would help them identify my home by flashing the outside lights on and off. It would also shut off the HVAC system if smoke or fire were detected. And when leaving the home, I could just push one button on the security console to say I’m away, and the system would arm itself, setback the temperature, and turn off lights, except at night the lights would go on and off automatically as if we were home. Once we got home and disarmed the security, the temperature would be reset to normal, and the appropriate lights would come on.

At bedtime, one button from a wireless remote at the bedside table would (1) make sure all doors were locked, (2) arm the security, (3) setback the temp, and (4) turn off all lights. Another button would trigger a loud alarm, turn on every light in the house, and call for help. Of course, all of that required programming and added cost and complexity. That’s one reason the Smart Home concept has been unable to “cross the chasm” from niche market to mainstream adoption, even after 50 years of marketing hype. (See The Elusive Smart Home for more on this.)

Okay. This article is already getting longer than most people may want, so I’ll stop here and reference these related articles if you’d like more. And I’d be happy to answer specific questions you post in the comments section below.

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